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Studies in Daniel Chapter IV THREE YOUNG HEBREWS

by R. H. Boll

Robert H. Boll (1875-1956)

Robert H. Boll (1875-1956)

Daniel 3

We do not know how long or how short a time has passed since Nebuchadnezzar’s dream. The likelihood is that it was rather a long time; long enough at least for Nebuchadnezzar to have quite forgotten his first lesson concerning the God of Israel, which had been taught him through Daniel’s prophetic revelation of his dream. In the meanwhile, too, Nebuchadnezzar’s pride had mightily grown: like others of his sort had done and are doing, he now undertook to control the religious faith of his subjects; and it crops out in the course of the story that he thought himself more than the match of any god, and that with specific reference to Israel’s God. In all probability he had by now extended his world-conquest, and was reigning supreme. Quite possibly, Jerusalem had also fallen, and the final captivity of Israel had taken place. In those times each nation’s god was thought its protecting power; and the conquest of one nation by another was regarded as evidence of the superiority of the conquering nation’s god. Nebuchadnezzar would naturally conclude that he and his gods were supreme in the earth. For though Jehovah, the God of Israel, may be a great God, yet had not he, Nebuchadnezzar, destroyed Jehovah’s temple, and led Jehovah’s people into exile?  As a tree falls easily the way it leans, so man’s fleshly heart is ever inclined to pride and self-exaltation. The world-conqueror becomes intoxicated with his own power and successes, and his growing pride runs to self-deification.

It is surely significant, and a point of deepest interest that an idolatrous image figures prominently at both the beginning and the end of the “times of the Gentiles”; both in connection with the first and the last Gentile world-power. Also it may be more than mere accident that in connection with both, the number 6 appears (60×6 here; 666 there. (Rev. 13). At any rate Nebuchadnezzar set up a golden image 60 cubits high, 6 cubits broad, in the plain of Dura, for the purpose of making it the object of universal worship throughout all his vast dominion. It is not said that it is an image of himself. We are distinctly told that it was the image of his (Nebuchadnezzar’s) god. Uniformity and governmental control of religion in their kingdom has always been a desideratum of tyrants and world-dictators. So Nebuchadnezzar, confident of his absolute power, undertook to institute his own religion and to compel the acceptance of it in all his domain.

On the great opening day were assembled in the plain of Dura all the governors, satraps, and high officials of the empire. There stood the lofty idol-statue, resplendent, visible from afar. A musical band was stationed there; and the imperial edict was that at the first blast of music all the great assembly should bow in worship before the great image. So, when the musical instrument blared out the appointed signal, all heads went down in adoration of the idol. All but three. These were Daniel’s three companions: Meshach, Shadrach, and Abed-nego. Where Daniel was at this time, and why he was not present we are not told. Whether the king had intentionally exempted him, or for whatever reason–it would be vain to guess and surmise–all we know is that Daniel is not in this picture. And whether it was the spirit of “Anti-Semitism” (for that thing is as old as the devil’s hate for the Jewish race) or just plain jealousy because of the high honor that had been bestowed upon these three Jewish captives (see Dan. 1:19; Dan. 2:49) certain “Chaldeans” noticed the failure of Daniel’s companions to comply with Nebuchadnezzar’s orders; and they promptly and gleefully hastened to report the disobedience to the king. These Chaldeans should have been the last to have done this thing, for they owed their very lives to Daniel and his three companions (Dan. 2:17-19,24). But there is no hatred so bitter as that which turns against a friend and benefactor. See how they embellish the accusation, to make it appear especially ugly in the king’s sight.

“There are certain Jews whom thou hast appointed over the affairs of the province of Babylon: Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego; these men, O king, have not regarded thee: they serve not thy gods, nor worship the golden image which thou hast set up.”

The implication, of course, was that their action was one of willful insubordination to and contempt for the king; of high treason and betrayal of their office. All of which was false and slanderous. But the king was filled with “rage and fury.” The three  Hebrews were summoned before him. Yet, after all, such was the king’s evident regard for them that he would not condemn them on the report of the Chaldeans but proposed to put them to the test.


“Is it of purpose, O Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego, that ye serve not my god, nor worship the golden image which I have set up? Now if ye be ready that at what time ye hear the sound of the cornet, flute, harp, sackbut, psaltery, and dulcimer, and all kinds of music, ye fall down and worship the image which I have made, well; but if ye worship not, ye shall be cast the same hour into the midst of a burning fiery furnace; and who is that god that shall deliver you out of my hands?

In saying this Nebuchadnezzar flung his gauntlet down before the God of Israel. That was a clear-cut challenge to Jehovah. “Let us see, now,” he said in effect, “who is greater and stronger, whether I, the king, or your God.” The answer of the young Hebrews must be recorded in letters of gold in the imperishable annals of God:

“O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer thee in this matter. If it be so, our God, whom we serve, is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace; and he will deliver us out of thy hand, O king. But if not, be it known unto thee, O king, that we will not serve thy gods, nor worship the golden image which thou hast set up.

That is to say–“Our God is able to deliver us; but whether He chooses to do so in this instance or not, we shall be true to Him.” (Comp. Acts 5:29.) It does not appear that the test was ever made. The answer of the young Hebrews so enraged the autocrat of Babylon that his very countenance was changed, and he immediately gave orders that some of his “mighty men” should bind the three Hebrews; that the furnace be heated seven times hotter than usual; and they be cast into that fiery slough. His rage was so overwhelming that he overdid everything. There was no need of calling “mighty men” to bind those humble, unresisting servants of Jehovah–a common soldier could have done it as well. And the heating of the furnace seven times hotter would really make their death quicker and easier than a slow fire would have done it. Also the flames that shot from the furnace’s mouth killed those “mighty men” of Nebuchadnezzar’s, when they cast in the three Hebrews. Evidently the king, as in common speech we say, “was so angry he couldn’t see straight,” and abandoned all sense and reason.

The furnace must have been so constructed that the interior could be seen. The king expecting to behold the gruesome spectacle of the consuming of these rebellious subjects, was suddenly seized with astonishment. In haste he rose up and said to his counselors: “Did we not cast three men bound into the furnace? . . . Lo, I see four men, loose, walking in the midst of the furnace; and the aspect of the fourth is like a son of the gods.” Now was his anger utterly forgotten, now was his pride gone. Like a humble suppliant the king came to the door of the furnace and said, “Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego, ye servants of the Most High God, come forth and come hither!” They came forth: their bonds had indeed been burned off, but upon their flesh there was no injury, nor any smell of fire upon their garments. One thing is notable in Nebuchadnezzar: he always responded to light. He did not fly into the [27] face of facts, nor kick against the pricks. He accepted the solemn truth which God now for the second time had brought home to his heart. He lifted up his voice and honored the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego; and issued a decree that upon severe penalties, the God whom these men worshipped should be held in awe throughout his kingdom: “for there is no other god that is able to deliver after this sort.” Manifestly the plan of enforcing universal compulsory worship of Nebuchadnezzar’s god, and the golden image he had reared up in the plain of Dura, must thereby have been abandoned; and now a decree of religious tolerance was proclaimed in all the dominion. For all liberty is purchased at the price of someone’s faith and heroism and self-sacrifice. But the three young Hebrews did the king promote in the province of Babylon.

From this time on the names of the three companions of Daniel are not mentioned again. We do not know where they lived, nor how, nor how long. But we confidently expect to meet them again in that Day, in the noble company of all those who “through faith conquered kingdoms, wrought righteousness . . . quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, from weakness were made strong,” who “had witness borne to them through their faith.”


The God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego (said King Nebuchadnezzar) “sent his angel and delivered his servants that trusted in him.” And of those three “servants” he said that they “changed the king’s word,” and that they “yielded their bodies, that they might not serve nor worship any god, except their own God.” In [28] doing this they gave God the chance to show His marvellous power in the sight of all the nations. “They loved not their life even unto death.” When you trust God, and take (what men would call) the risk you give Him opportunity to work and to show His hand. Alas, how little chance God has in the lives of most of us!

When thou walkest through the fire, thou shalt not be burned, neither shall the flame kindle upon thee. For I am Jehovah thy God, the Holy One of Israel, thy Saviour . . .” (Isa. 43:2,3). This promise was literally fulfilled in the case of the three young Hebrews. It needs not to be fulfilled in such literalness to be true; and has not always been so fulfilled. The three Hebrews themselves did not know that it would be so fulfilled. Nevertheless they trusted their God.

“Thy saints in all the glorious war

Shall conquer though they die:

They see the triumph from afar

With faith’s discerning eye.”

“The day of Jacob’s trouble.” In the latter days, God’s prophet declares, a remnant of Israel, for their loyalty to God will pass through the furnace. “I will bring the third part into the fire, and will refine them as silver is refined, and I will try them as gold is tried. They shall call on my name, and I will hear them: I will say, It is my people; and they shall say, Jehovah is my God.” (Zech. 13:9).

The times of the Gentiles which began with Nebuchadnezzar’s conquest of the kingdom of Judah, will close with Israel’s intensest sufferings under the rule of “the little horn.” But “he will be saved out of it.” (Jer. 30:7-9.) See Dan. 7:21-27.  This will be brought out in a future lesson. To the head of the first Gentile world-power however God is teaching lessons concerning Himself and His people Israel, which all Gentile rulers should heed. But they will not.


  1. H. Boll was Editor of the print edition of Word and Work from 1916 to 1956.


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